MADRID (AP)—Pledges by six European countries to accept over 350 migrants from a rescue ship in the central Mediterranean on Aug. 23 capped weeks of standoffs between charities and governments that have dramatically exposed Europe’s inability to deal with sea migration from Africa.
The tension is likely to continue. The increasingly fewer charity groups running rescue missions are vowing to return to maritime routes from Libya. And the European Union is making little progress toward a permanent system to organize sea rescues, especially one that would force all members to comply.
Meanwhile, Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, blames the charities for aiding human trafficking mafias, part of a tough approach that has pushed up his popularity and emboldened him to provoke a government crisis that could result in early elections.
The Maltese armed forces were expected to take ashore 356 passengers stuck on Ocean Viking for the past two weeks, the prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, said. He said all the migrants will be distributed to France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.
Until his announcement, Maltese authorities had denied the ship access and Italy had ignored its requests for docking, in a similar way that at least 19 ships – including fishing vessels, coast guard patrol boats and the EU’s own border control fleet – have faced varying degrees of difficulties to disembark over the past year.